A handsome woman in her sixties sat on a wooden bench in the shade in the Central Garden. She was watching him, a knowing smile on her lips.
He had never seen her before.
Who was she?
. One of the Others. One who knew Irving, who wanted to send him a message.
So she found one of the Chosen Ones—she found Aaron—and spoke in his mind. How did she know he was one of the Chosen Ones? Could she read his thoughts, too? Because if that was the case, he needed to clear his head, and
The woman was short. Well-built. Dark hair. Dark, dark eyes. Tanned skin. She turned her head, lifted a cigarette to her lips, and took a long, slow pull, and a look at her profile made him sharply aware that she’d been a pretty woman once. Still was, but—
Rosamund put her arm around his back and said firmly, “Let’s walk.”
He stumbled along with her. The Chosen Ones had already confronted one mind speaker, and although in the end they had survived, it had been a disaster.
Was the older woman going to say something else? Had she taken possession of his brain?
Could she control him?
And Rosamund said, “I know you weren’t raised in normal circumstances, but didn’t anyone ever tell you not to stare at people who are scarred?”
“You don’t stare at people who are scarred.” Rosamund sounded exasperated and a little angry. “I mean, that poor woman. Isn’t it enough that someone slit her nose down the middle, without having some guy in a suit staring at her?”
“What?” Aaron searched his brain. He seemed alone, but then, he hadn’t been aware of anyone in there until the words had whispered through his head.
“Aaron!” Rosamund let go of his arm. “Are you really so insensitive?”
He looked down at her.
She looked flushed and indignant, her violet eyes narrowed behind dark-rimmed glasses, her carroty hair almost sparking. “You really are that insensitive!” With a huff, she stalked away.
Nothing else could have yanked him out of his stupor. After all that had happened in the last five days, and now
, he was not letting Rosamund escape him. Lengthening his stride, he caught up with her, took her arm, and hustled her toward the street. “I’m not being insensitive. I recognized her, and she could cause problems.” It was sort of true, and he needed to soothe Rosamund, get her to Irving’s, and in a hurry.
“You know her? I take it she’s not a friend.”
“Did her husband do that to her?”
“Why do you think that?”
“In old Spain, a husband would slit his wife’s nose down the middle as a punishment for infidelity.”
Rosamund would know something like that. He suspected she was a repository of odd facts. . . . “I don’t know who did it.”
“I hope she got her revenge.” Rosamund stalked along beside him. “You wouldn’t think that kind of barbaric behavior was possible today, but husbands still have too much power over their wives. She looks Romany—”
“Gypsy. Of course. She’s a gypsy!” He couldn’t believe it took Rosamund to point that out. Where was his brain?
Maybe the gypsy was blocking his thoughts. Or maybe he was just petrified.
“Romany, maybe from another country. The injury must have happened when she was young. I think she’s had plastic surgery, but probably it had healed so it was too late to really fix it. How could you recognize her and not know this? What do you mean, she could cause problems?” Rosamund pulled her arm free. “And would you stop shoving me around?”
“I’m sorry. I saw a cab. On the street. I wanted to catch it. Rush hour, you know? Are you hungry? Irving has two cooks now, good ones, and I make a point of being there for dinner.” He was babbling, trying to distract her, herding her through the exit from the zoo.
“You’re not answering any of my questions.” The girl was too smart for her own good.
“I will. When we get to Irving’s, you can ask anything you want.” Not that she was going to get any real answers, but she could certainly ask. He flung his arm up at the oncoming cab and the driver swerved to the curb.
As she climbed in, Rosamund said grudgingly, “You’re really good at that.”
“Making the cabs stop.”
Certainly it made sense that, looking like she did, like an incredibly intelligent bag lady, she would have trouble getting a cab.
Irving’s mansion was less than a mile away, a nineteenth-century, perfectly preserved behemoth complete with dozens of bedrooms, a library with shelves that rose from floor to ceiling, a cavernous dining room that would seat thirty, and at least a dozen bedrooms. Usually Irving, the ninety-three-year-old former CEO of the Gypsy Travel Agency and protector of the Chosen Ones, lived alone with his butler, went to work in the mornings, and went home at noon for his nap. That nap had saved his life, for he had been sleeping when the explosion occurred.
McKenna, the butler, and Martha, the dedicated servant of the Gypsy Travel Agency, rounded out their beleaguered group.
As Aaron paid the cab, Rosamund stood admiring the mansion’s exterior, talking about neo-French Classic style and finials until he took a long breath to stave off boredom. Then he hustled her up the stairs to the front door. As he reached up to ring the bell, the door was flung open and Aleksandr Wilder rushed out. The twenty-one-year-old was tall, rail-thin, with big bones and the facial features of a Cossack. He was also as clumsy as a puppy, smacking into Rosamund’s shoulder. If Aaron hadn’t had his arm around her waist, she would have tumbled down the stairs.
“Take it easy!” Aaron snapped, and when Aleksandr would have steadied her, Aaron pushed his hands away.
“I’m sorry!” Aleksandr looked into her eyes and blushed bright red. “I’m just . . . I tutor calculus at Ford-ham in the summer and I haven’t been there because of . . . you know . . . so they called home and talked to my grandmother, who is a scary woman when she’s mad. She called and spoke to Irving, so now I get to go out, but I’m late. So . . . sorry!”
“Be careful out there.” Aleksandr scanned the exclusive neighborhood, hoping not to see that woman, never to experience that mind-speaking again.
“I am careful,” Aleksandr assured him. “My grandfather taught me
before I could walk.”
Aaron supposed that was true. The boy was related to the famous Wilders. Nineteen years ago they had broken their pact with the devil—the pact that gave them infamous powers—and in doing so, had freed everyone in their extended family, too, even the Varinski branch of the Ukraine. Apparently, not all of them had taken the downfall with any grace, and while no one knew for certain, Aaron suspected the devil was none too pleased, either.
But while Aleksandr claimed he had been trained to watch for danger, he showed no signs of caution now. Instead, he backed down the stairs, stumbling over every other step, and all the while, he stared at Rosamund. “Hi.” He waved a hand malformed by fire. “You must be the librarian. Will I see you later?”
Obviously, he didn’t give a damn about seeing Aaron later.
“She’s got a date tonight.” Aaron hadn’t thought he would be glad to say it, but he was.
Aleksandr slumped. “Man, Aaron. You move fast.” Turning, he galloped down the steps.
“Not with Aaron,” Rosamund called after him.
“He’s out of earshot.” A fact Aaron felt great satisfaction in telling her.
“How did he know I was a librarian?”
Aaron guided her through the open door. “Because I went out to find the world’s foremost expert on prophecies.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t get my father, but I really am awfully good with prophecies and languages.” Abruptly, she stopped walking, stopped talking.
Shutting the door behind them, he could see her absorbing the marble floor, the soaring gilded ceiling, the matching Chippendale tables, the original Chagall hanging on the wall. He saw the moment when she made her decision about the decorating.
Her quiet face lit up with pleasure; she clutched Aaron’s arm, and turned those warm violet eyes on him. “You were right. The ambience is a stunning mix of nineteenth-century glamour and mid-twentieth-century modernism. Did Mr. Shea put this together himself? Because if he did, he has a discerning eye.”
A form moved out of the shadows, took the shape of Irving’s man of all trades, and bore down on them. “Actually, Dr. Hall—I assume you are Dr. Hall?”
Aaron said, “Dr. Rosamund Hall, this is McKenna, Mr. Shea’s butler.”
She shook McKenna’s hand.
“I did the decorating, using original antiques from the mansion and adding the best of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, taking care to imbue this area with wealth and quiet elegance to match Mr. Shea’s image.” McKenna, a middle-aged, conservatively suited hobbit of a man, had a ponderous way of speaking that could possibly go on forever.
Aaron was preparing to intervene when, across the foyer, one of the doors slammed open.
A young woman walked out. Her hair was jet-black with purple highlights, her eyes were rimmed in black kohl, and she wore a plaid skirt, gold lamé platform heels, a studded dog collar, and matching leather bracelets that covered the tattoos Aaron knew were there. Holding an empty paper tube aloft, Charisma stalked toward the library and bellowed, “All right! Who left the toilet paper for me to change
t’s a miracle.” Dr. Campbell slipped his stethoscope into the pocket of his white coat and beamed. “In this place, it’s not often I get to say that. Mr. White,
are a miracle.”
“I appreciate that.” Gary restrained his impatience, using the controls on the hospital bed to move himself into a sitting position. “Now, please, I’ve been asking for food and I’m getting no cooperation at all.”
The doctor’s tired face grew serious. “You have to realize, Mr. White, you’ve been in a coma for four years. You’ve been fed through an IV.”
Like Gary didn’t know that. Days and weeks and months and years of that eternal drip, drip, drip landing in his veins and echoing through his head, and every time, his rage and frustration—and fear—grew.
But Dr. Campbell was still babbling. “Until we do some testing, we’d like you to keep eating through a tube—”
“I want some food.”
The floor nurse moved restively. “I told you, doctor, he’s been very insistent and not at all cooperative. He
the IV tubes out of his arm.”
The doctor, the nurses, the technicians lined the little private room in this cold, dim mausoleum of a nursing home where Gary’s living body had been stored, out of sight and out of mind, for the last four years. They stared at him as if he were the freak in a sideshow, and acted as if he should be happy to look on their faces.
Instead, he wanted to rant and rage.
But he didn’t. He kept his voice low and in a reasonable tone said, “I am the patient. You’re the medical staff. My insurance is paying you to take care of me. I don’t need to cooperate with you; you need to cooperate with me.” Then his voice changed, grew deep and commanding.
“And I want to eat.”
Slowly, with great patience, as if Gary were simple-minded, Dr. Campbell said, “Mr. White, your muscles are atrophied, your digestive system is compromised, and until last night, when you woke up so unexpectedly, your brain showed little activity. We believed you were on the verge of death. Please let us revel in the miracle of your recovery while we do the necessary tests to determine how—”
Gary interrupted. “Let me make myself clear. I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve come out of the coma.”
“But your relatives!” the nurse said.
“I don’t have any relatives.”
“Just two days ago we had inquiries about your condition!” she insisted.
God, she was a stupid cow. “My employer who hopes I will die, no doubt.”